Stevie J, Sean 'Diddy' Combs and Deric "D Dot" Angelettie attend
Stevie J, Sean 'Diddy' Combs and Deric "D Dot" Angelettie attend Compound Entertainment And Malibu Red GRAMMY Midnight Brunch 2013 at Bagatelle/STK on February 9, 2013 in West Hollywood, California.
Johnny Nunez

Music Sermon: We’ve Been Sleeping On Bad Boy's Dream Team

Over the last several weeks, there’s been an onslaught of Top 40 and 50 music conversations. A (truly misguided) top 50 rappers list led to people in the music industry and entertainment industry creating their own (including a really solid one from Mike Tyson), even a Top 40 Best Dressed/ Flyest Rappers of All Time list (immediately rendered void by Sean John “Preserve the Sexy” Combs sitting in the bottom three). In the midst of the listing frenzy, Timbaland put forth his Top 50 producers. Notably missing: any of Bad Boy’s famed Hitmen squad, the collective responsible for the overwhelming majority of the label’s hits in the mid-late 90s.

First, the Hitmen “captain,” Deric “D. Dot” Angelettie, reacted.

Then, the head Hitman himself, Puffy, bigged his squad up.

Puffy and D. Dot were absolutely right to say, “Um, remember us? The folks who kept the parties poppin’ for almost a decade?” The Hitmen are among the architects of the East Coast hip-hop sound. For the better part of the ‘90s, Bad Boy’s in house production team carried the label to dominance by mastering the marriage of hip-hop and R&B, creating the remix, and pushing rap to the top of the pop charts. However, it’s normal for them to be left off of classic producer lists specifically because they took hits from the ‘80s (yeah yeah) and made them sound so crazy (yeah yeah), instead of pulling obscure samples and/or creating complex sound structures like, for example, RZA. A producer friend once critiqued a Bad Boy song by dropping the needle on a 12”, and remarking, deadpan: “That’s how D. Dot produced that track.” But this is an unfair critique; if you go beneath the surface, you'll find that the Bad Boy Hitmen were talents with their own styles, true musicianship, and the elusive understanding of the anatomy of a hit. And yeah, there was a lot of shiny pop and disco samples, but there was some real New York street ish in there, too.

Full disclosure, I’m a little biased about the Hitmen. I worked in Reggie Osse’s (aka Combat Jack’s) entertainment law office when his firm represented the full roster of producers. I remember when VIBE’s feature on the producers, “Mo Money Mo Problems,” hit stands in August 1998, and gushing to Mario Winans (who I had a paralyzing crush on) about how great he looked in the spread. I then went on to work at Bad Boy, so definitely not objective, but there’s plenty of sound evidence to support my argument. Production collectives don’t hit like they used to, but from the Motown and Stax era through Hip-Hop’s rise to the mainstream in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, a tight, dependable team of talent was often the secret ingredient in a label’s winning streak. Bad Boy would have lockouts at NY’s Hit Factory studios, and later Puffy’s own Daddy’s House studio, with a nonstop rotation of producers, talent, friends, etc falling through sessions. It was fertile ground for collaboration.

Season 3 of Netflix’s award-winning Hip-Hop Evolution looks into Bad Boy’s dominating era in music, starting with Biggie, but propelled by a distinctive Bad Boy sonic. Puff shared his motivation for forming an in house production squad: “I was always a big fan of Quincy Jones, not as a producer but as an orchestrator. I never saw him play an instrument, and that empowered me because I didn’t play any instruments (for the record, Quincy is a legendary jazz trumpeter, but had to stop playing after a brain aneurysm). I saw him giving direction, I was good at giving directions,” he explained to series narrator Shad. “The Hitmen believed in me and my leadership, so you had that cohesive sound, so it’s coming from one brain; our collective brain.” The formation of the Hitmen - of the Bad Boy sound - was the key to Bad Boy surviving Biggie’s death in 1997.

In 2016, D-Dot, Nashiem Myrick and a few other Hitmen sat with their former lawyer Combat Jack to talk about their legacy at the A3C conference. D-Dot compared the producers in their prime with another legendary NY team. “We started believing that we were the Yankees. We were puttin’ up home run hitters...everybody was contributing...Stevie would walk in with something. Then other teammates came; the next thing you know, Mario Winans joined [the team] later on. Then, shit got even crazier ’cause Chucky [Thompson], Stevie, and Mario are musicians. Like, for real musicians—five, six instruments apiece. Then to watch the three of them battle each other. Like, ‘Okay, we gotta make D-Dot or we gonna make Nash’s beat hot’...So Mario’s playing drums, Chucky is playing the bass, and Stevie’s on the keys—playing at the same time; they didn’t rehearse.”

The squad taught each other new techniques, played off of each other’s strengths and pushed each other to be better. “It made for great competition...That’s how the hits got made.”

Over the full course of Bad Boy’s run there’ve been more Hitmen than Wu Tang members - even Kanye was rumored to have joined the production team for a hot second several years ago. However, not all Bad Boy producers are Hitmen; that’s a special distinction appointed by Puff himself. As with other collectives, sometimes individual credit was skipped for the sake of the bigger picture. But also, in true team style, several Hitmen often worked on a track, with one laying the foundation, working with the artists on their vocals, and one closing out as the anchor with final touches. Today, we’re focusing on some of the key members in the lineup at its strongest: Deric “D Dot” Angelettie, Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, “Stevie J” Jordan, Nashiem Myrick, Chucky Thompson, Mario Winans, and Rashad “Ringo” Smith.

--

THE CAPTAIN: Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie
THE ELDER: Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence

Several of the original key Bad Boy staff members and label collaborators originally met at Howard University. Deric "D Dot" Angelettie (aka the Mad Rapper) promoted parties with Puff, and he and another day one Hitman Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence started as a rap duo called Two Kings in a Cipher.

Deric is universally recognized as the head of the original Hitmen, second to only Puff, and had his hands in almost everything the collective did not only as a producer, but the label’s head A&R: figuring out what track worked for whom, coaxing performances out of developing artists, and guiding new producers coming into the fold on how to develop Bad Boy’s Midas touch. As a producer in his own right, he and partner Ron Lawrence were behind some of Bad Boy’s biggest hits.

Even though Deric was at the helm in the shiny suit era, he prefers a harder sound than the bop-inducing tracks. “I’m more grimier hip hop, that’s where I’m from.” Deric has explained. “But I love to dance and I love money. Puff said ‘If you can combine those two with what you do, you can be an asset to me.’”

While the dance and bling tracks are what most immediately come to mind with Bad Boy’s chart-topping era, there was way more in the catalog than the soundtrack for bottle poppin’ and partying. The Mad Rapper reminded the A3C crowd in the Combat Jack conversation, “What people don’t realize is that we probably had some of the grimiest hip-hop records in history...along with them joints that popped on top.”

He was talking about songs like classic posse cut “Money, Power, Respect,” a power anthem flipped from a ‘70s jazz fusion song, complete with DMX barks for that extra umph.

And “Where I’m From,” the haunting track Deric and Ron gave to Jay-Z after Puff passed it up, (and then got mad, even though he passed it up). 20 years later, the song still prompts that screwface only a disgusting beat and flow can inspire.

But even when moving on the dark side, a necessary Hitmen trait was the ability to walk the line between street, soulful and sexy. Shout out to Carl Thomas and Too Short.

There was one track D-Dot absolutely did not want to touch because it was too on the nose: Mase’s “Feels So Good.” (The sample from Kool & the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging” is the one my producer friend criticized.) He tried to pass it to Nashiem or Stevie, but Puff insisted he produce it.

Even though Deric and Puff weren’t always on the same page with musical styles, he has always been one of the most vocal defenders of the team’s talents and the Hitmen legacy, as he was back when folks were accusing them of just dropping the needle on the record. "Let me see you go up in the studio, coach vocals, mix a record, and add all the necessary shit you need to get them three thousand eight hundred [radio] spins a week," he told VIBE in 1998. "Puffy can do that. Deric Angelettie can do that. Stevie J. can do that. Nashiem can do that. Ron Lawrence can do that. That's what makes us producers."

While Deric’s sonic heart was sometimes more in the streets, his partner Ron Lawrence - who could just as easily move between the two works - often kept the party stuff going even when working outside of the label.

THE GRIMEY ONE: Nashiem Myrick

Day one producer Nashiem Myrick is rarely one of the first - or second, or third - Hitmen that comes to mind, but he was one of Big's favorites - probably because he translated Big’s energy to track so perfectly. Nah started as a studio engineer, and started being pulled into sessions until he became part of the official first Hitmen lineup, along with his partner Carlos Broady. He’s lowkey been responsible for some of the grittier songs out of the camp. I mean, this is one of the hardest tracks of all time. Period. Till this day. The song was originally for Mary J. Blige’s “My Life,” but Big went too hard with his verses. They put an interlude version on Mary’s album (with Keith Murray), and when the full version dropped it was perceived as a shot fired at 2Pac, inciting the infamous East Coast/West Coast beef between Bad Boy & Death Row (the song was written and recorded long before Pac was shot at NYC’s Quad Studios). Song lore aside, it’s still one of Big’s best (and still my go-to when I need motivation for anything - public speaking, a negotiation, a run, a drug heist, whatever).

Nashiem got (and gets) very little light, despite the classics he’s put up. He was never one of the “faces” of the camp, but he’s said that wasn’t his goal. “I didn’t care about radio...Radio wasn’t in my domain. I just wanted to rock the streets, rock people’s minds...I just wanted to be the hardest dude out there.” And he did that without losing or compromising the trademark Bad Boy energy. (Nash’s songs are also some of Puff’s greatest adlib moments.)

Some of your favorite ugly Big joints are Nash’s. (This is also one of my favorite uses of this Al Green sample.)

He was also behind Lil’ Kim’s most Biggie’ish song.

The thing about being part of a collective is, there’s work that nobody will know you did because it was credited to the collective name, or to just one of the producers, or, in the early years with this team, sometimes just Puffy. Nash has said he produced one of the best Mariah remixes of all time (with Puff, of course).

Nash did put some radio points on the board under his own name.

And here, with the help of Stevie J.

His R&B direction was even still kinda hard – a reminder that the Hitmen were one of the earliest and most adept teams at using hip-hop tracks under R&B voices.

Almost all of the Hitmen also had East Coast hip-hop classics outside of the Bad Boy ecosystem, and Nash had one of the most NY joints ever - the inspiration for his eventual company name: Top of New York Productions. You got beef, I got beef.

THE R&B SPECIALIST: Chucky Thompson

DC native Chucky Thompson was part of the Hitmen before the Hitmen were the Hitmen, but he isn't discussed as much as his counterparts. That may be because his work is better known in R&B circles - two of Chucky’s biggest career markers are his work on Mary J Blige’s seminal sophomore album, My Life, and on Faith’s debut album. But he was a core element of Bad Boy’s foundational hits.

He joined the Bad Boy affiliation to work on Usher’s debut, which LA Reid had turned over to Puff to oversee. There was no real Bad Boy production team of any kind yet at this point.

Look at little itty bitty baby Ush!

Chucky became a core producer for the label, and would float from session to session in NY’s Hit Factory (Bad Boy’s studio home before Daddy’s House), adding keys here, guitar there, a drum track there. The beginning of the collaborative nature of the eventual team.

He really found his groove when he started working with Mary. Puffy initially wanted him to do maybe one song for My Life, but Chucky ended up spearheading the production of the whole project.

(This is my sh*t.)

The producer met Faith while working on Usher (Faith and Donnell Jones wrote “Think of You,”) and then continued working with her on Mary’s album. When Puff signed her, Faith told Chucky she wanted him to produce her album. His church-taught musicianship and her church-bred vocals were a perfect fit. She heard a track Chucky was working on for Total, who Puff was developing, and snatched it up.

Chucky didn't just bless R&B artists; he was also good for adding a bit of swing and melody in a rap track.

He was also great for a good ol’ hip-hop hood love story.

Like I said, all of the Hitmen also had key classics outside of the Bad Boy roster, Chucky included. He’s a regular collaborator with Nas.

THE MVP: Stevie J

In 2019, Stevie J. is known mostly as a reality TV star, and there’s an entire generation of people watching his exploits and ego like “I don’t get it.” But his self-aggrandizing is kinda justified: he was an integral part of one of the hottest eras in urban music history. Listen, “Steebie” ain't sh*t. Ain't never been sh*t. But he is talented as hell. The PK (pastor’s kid) plays multiple instruments, writes, arranges, sings…

Stevie said in his own response to the Top 50 list, there’s a difference between a beatmaker and a producer. Steven Jordan is a producer.

Stevie came into the Bad Boy fold working with Jodeci, and at one point was was part of Devante's Swing Mob collective. He was the on-call person when Puff needed a specific touch. Much like Puff himself, Stevie was good for making a track sexy (“sexy” is a tangible thing at Bad Boy).

Like Deric tried to do with “Feels So Good,” other producers would kick certain songs over to Stevie when they felt like it was something destined for the pop chart by way of the dance floor. “One day Mase comes in the studio… he pulls up a Diana Ross record, ‘I’m Coming Out.’ He was like ‘Yo, Nash, hit that for me. I need that. I want to do that.’” Nash once shared. “I was like, ‘Nah, that’s not me. Steve about to come here. Let Steve do that.’” Mase took it personally and was allegedly never really good with Nash after that, but Nash wasn’t trying to be shady. “I knew I couldn’t bless it like Stevie. Stevie comes in, does it, it comes out, sold 2 million.” Then Puffy heard it, said it was fire, and told Mase it was going on Big’s album (poor Mase).

In my personal opinion, Stevie and Puffy were very similar. They had the same flair; Stevie moved a lot like Puff back in the day - you’d catch him out with full-length furs, platinum crosses and Jesus pieces, and no shirt on - which made him a perfect collaborator.

But that also meant they were destined to eventually clash. Similar to young Puffy while at Uptown, Stevie was hungry to grow, telling VIBE in ‘98 “I wanna see my name in big lights without Puffy as well as with Puffy.” With his ability to add live instrumentation on top of samples and loops - or even recreate samples on the spot - Stevie was an MVP for the team and contributed to two of Bad Boy’s most anthemic hits.

Stevie had a strong run of success outside of the label, too, if not long-lived.

He co-produced several songs on Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album, garnering his second Grammy.

While not the biggest of his hits, one of my personal favorite Stevie J contributions is Dave Hollister’s "My Favorite Girl," his debut solo single after leaving Blackstreet. I love this song so much, because it is so soulful, has so much church up in it, but is so damn disrespectful. If you listen closely, you can hear Stevie in the background vocals.

THE BABY: Mario Winans

Mario Winans kept things poppin’ when the veterans started leaving the fold, bridging the gap between the classic Bad Boy era and the P. Diddy and the era with The Family, G Dep, Danity Kane, Da Band, and Dirty Money.

He’s like a Stevie J. Jr with a touch of Chucky: a church-raised musician (his mother is Vicky Winans) who could play multiple instruments, write and sing.

He brought the sexy...

The core R&B feel…

And he was an artist in his own right.

But if Mario never did anything else in his career, we are thankful to him for these two classics. I’m team Part 2, by the way.

THE MOST KNOWN UNKNOWN: Rashad "Ringo" Smith.

Ringo Smith is a wildcard member of the Hitmen. There’s almost no info on him - google him and you’ll find some credits but no real interviews or video footage. I’ve worked in this game my entire career and never heard anybody say, "Yo, Ringo Smith is dope." And yet, he’s respected enough in music circles to have been one of the faces memorialized on A Tribe Called Quest’s iconic Midnight Marauders cover.

But the super low key Smith produced some of Bad Boy’s biggest early bangers.

He belongs in the hall of fame for this alone.

Ringo even made some of your non-Bad Boy faves from this era. “Doin’ It” was originally intended for Big’s Life After Death follow up, which is why “Go Brooklyn” is sampled throughout a song by the very-much-from-Queens LL. *Makes it hot*

I called Ringo a wildcard because he could move in so many different directions. He doesn’t have a sonic signature.

He could effortlessly go back and forth between left-of-center and shiny, happy, everybody-report-to-the-dancefloor right now.

THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER - PUFF DADDY

Finally, we have to address the team General Manager (literally; all Hitmen were managed by Puffy). There's been a lot of speculation over the years about Puff as an executive producer. Did he just come in and push a button and get EP credit? But a majority of the Hitmen have said on record that Puff has the most important element of a good producer: the ear.

Hitmen Jeffrey “J-Dubb” Walker and Anthony Dent talked about Puff’s strengths as a producer in a round table with other members of the team for The Urban Daily. He echoed the same sentiments Puff shared in Hip-Hop Evolution. “People say Puff can’t play an instrument, he ain’t no producer. You ain’t gotta play sh*t to be a producer,” J-Dubb argued. (Clearly, that standard for producers is long gone) “He knew what he heard in his head and he knew who could make that happen. … That was his job!”

Anthony added an example from his early days with the team when Puff asked him to turn off the sample machine while he was talking to him. “(Puff) was standing by the SP and I said, ‘It’s right there, turn it off.’ He looked at the equipment and said ‘Playboy, I don’t know how to work none of this sh*t in here. I know how to make a hit.’ And that’s when it hit me: You know how to put a record together, you’re a producer.

So the Hitmen were not just a  ‘70s and ‘80s sample factory - but also, why was there even so much hate around sample-based hits (aside from the whole not seeing any back-end money because of publishing thing)? As Nash exclaimed at A3C, “Hip-Hop was created by taking an old record, rapping on it, and making it new again. That’s how the foundation of Hip-Hop started, so how could you be mad at what we’re doing? We were just doin’ it on another level.”

From the perspective Puff shares in Hip-Hop Evolution, crossover or not, the music was still serving us: black folks. “I just started to choose real big, worldwide samples, and I figured out how to keep it black as a mothafu**a. And they would go pop, but they would still be so fu**ing black. We make that cookout music, we made that get married music, we make that make that make your baby music.” As much as we look back on the shiny suit era with disdain today, after years of gangsta and mafioso rap, we needed some party music. We needed fun hip-hop. And there’s a reason the songs still hold up: the samples were classic and the production was flawless. In my opinion, the sole difference in good production versus flash in the pan ish is whether or not you can run the track in 20 years and it still feels fresh. I guarantee you danced to a Hitmen-produced track at least once this summer. All their top joints still feel fresh.

Even though the OG’s are long gone and the days of Bad Boy as a full roster of artists and producers are gone as well, the Hitmen are a lifetime fraternity. Going back to the VIBE interview 20 years ago; the vets were just starting branch out. Deric was cultivating Crazy Cat (with more John Blaze), Stevie was working on his own stuff (he didn’t even show up for the photoshoot, on some superstar ish). But Deric, in true team captain fashion, insisted it didn’t mean there was bad blood. "In fact, it's endorsed.” He insisted. “When Puffy assembled us, the first thing he said was, `It's gonna take time for y'all to become what y'all need to become, but at the end of the rainbow, there could be label deals, production deals....' So kill all the rumors. If Stevie J. leaves, if Deric leaves, we're still Hitmen. Our line to each other is, `Once a Bad Boy, always a Bad Boy.' "

--

#MusicSermon is a series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Nunu Kidane

African Diaspora Dialogues: The Journey To “One Love”

African Diasporic Relationship status: complicated.

The origins of the African diaspora’s complications began with centuries of complex, interwoven events. Through systems of slavery and colonization, people of African descent have ended up around the globe from Brazil to the Caribbean to the U.S. by way of human trafficking. Within the context of colonization, present-day African descendant migrations are heavily influenced by colonial forces with whether one has moved from the Caribbean to the U.K., Arkansas to California, Mississippi to New York or Ethiopia to Washington D.C.; the African diaspora migration patterns that zigzag and criss-cross the globe are creating new patterns, tapestry, and cross-cultural identities. Within these movements is often the hope of a better life existing simultaneously with significant amounts of cross-cultural adjustments, stress, and misunderstandings. With the “complicated” relationship status that has come about as a result, one possible solution is communication and...dialogue.

African Diaspora Dialogues exist to fill that gap. The organization, Priority Africa Network, facilitates this series of discussions designed to strengthen ties between new black immigrants and existing African-American communities, heal divisions arising from conflict, understand common history, and forge political unity.

Nunu Kidane, an African immigrant born in Ethiopia to Eritrean parents, is the Founder and Director of Priority Africa Network, the lead organization behind African Diaspora Dialogues. According to Kidane, the outlet’s purpose “is about telling your story. How you’ve walked through the world experiencing other black people, white supremacy, and trying to affirm all those identities and form a new Pan-African identity.”

The idea for the Dialogues arrived in 2006 in connection to the “Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005” also known as the “Sensenbrenner Bill” named after its sponsor, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. The bill proposed classifying undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the U.S. as felons. It passed the House in December 2005 but not the Senate. This sparked the 2006 Immigration Reform protests that included millions of participants.

Priority Africa Network started hosting community platforms for people to find out how the proposed changes could impact black immigrant communities. Around that same time, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) formed as black organizers observed that in the mass immigration reform demonstrations black people weren’t represented. According to Gerald Lenoir, African-American Founding Executive Director of BAJI, two ministers, Rev. Phillip Lawson, and Rev. Kelvin Sauls brought organizers together to discuss how to introduce this issue to African-American and black immigrant communities. They formed BAJI seeing the immigrant rights struggle as a collective struggle against racism. African Diaspora Dialogues became a tool to bring together African-Americans and black immigrants in an effort to forge a Pan-African identity amongst people of many different backgrounds from across the African continent, the U.S. and Caribbean.

“Don’t care where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you are an African.” - Peter Tosh.

“First people want to affirm that we need to unite and the facilitators allow for that, then say ‘Yes, but...let’s go a little deeper.’ And we have ways to provoke these, not so much conflicts, but differences of opinion that are bound to emerge that really get into the substance of the differences where we can then contextualize them historically,” says Kidane. Initially, new black immigrants insist that they be seen as Nigerian, Kenyan, Ethiopian, from the Caribbean, rather than as merely “black.”

According to Kidane, the idea that anyone can make it in America makes black immigrants believe African-Americans haven’t made it because they haven’t worked as hard and that the disproportionate incarceration rates are deserved, so the first thing many do when coming to America is try to distance themselves from African-American communities. “We know very little of the history that precedes us and worse, we don’t think we need to know, that’s even worse,” Kidane says “Because when you don’t think you need to know the history of the people that look like you that have experienced hardship… that is the basis of the tension that really contributes to non-communication that we were determined to make the space for.”

“There is a significant amount of pain and a need for healing of hurts between African Americans and Black migrants that are in the way of our building power with each other… Holding space for each other in dialogue is critical to us humanizing each other and therefore seeing ourselves and our lives in and through each other.” Rufaro Gwarada, Zimbabwean, African Diaspora Dialogue participant.

“The demographic change all over this country has been so rapid that it’s creating this anxiety.” says Lenoir. “So the dominant narrative is ‘These immigrants are coming, they’re taking over your social services, they’re taking over your jobs.’ That’s the narrative that many of us buy into. The reality is the employer discriminates against African-Americans because we know and will assert our rights. New immigrants can be paid less and won’t stand up for their rights so they’re being exploited... We blame immigrants and not the employers or the government.”

According to Lenoir, U.S. economic, foreign and military policies are forcing people to migrate. “All these people coming over from Central America are really the result of U.S. support for dictatorships all over Central America. So they’re coming here because they’ve been repressed in their own country, in countries that are still supported by the U.S….So these are the conversations we have to have with folks to get them to understand the global picture and why people migrate.”

“We cannot think of uniting with others until after we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” - Malcolm X.

There are practical benefits for African-American and African immigrant communities to be untied. “You are now living and walking as a black person in America and you need to recognize that.” Kidane tells new black immigrants. “No one is taking away from you being Zambian or Eritrean or whatever, but you need to recognize that you are walking around as a black person and you need to know what that means.”

“These kind of dialogues are critical to building solidarity. The anti-immigrant movement has been around a very long time and they are very powerful and seeking to divide the African-American community from immigrants. So I think creating a space for us to come together is really critical especially given the political climate that we now live in where fascism is on the agenda… And anything that we can do to bring our communities together and then to reach out to other communities is going to be critical particularly in this election year.

The Trump administration has been described as the most anti-immigrant administration of its predecessors. Its signature “Travel Ban” also known as the “Muslim ban” recently added Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan to its list as well as the African countries of Eritrea, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sudan. In addition, highly trained tactical border control agents are set to deploy to “Sanctuary Cities” throughout the U.S. in an effort to round up larger numbers of undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary Cities are cities that limit cooperation with national government efforts to enforce immigration law. Many activist communities are resisting and pushing back against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant sentiment and consider this election year critically important to the idea of true democracy and choosing elected officials sympathetic to migrant issues and immigrants rights.

“In a year like 2020 with elections and the Census coming up, we have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that we show up for each other. It’s important that we participate in civic life as members of an interconnected, diverse Black community facing shared issues like state violence in our communities whether it’s brought on us by policing or ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]," said Rufaro Gwarada, an African Diaspora Dialogue participant Zimbabwean descent. "Conversations between us need not just happen in curated space. We can bridge differences and cultivate strong relationships by reaching out and inviting each other into community whether it’s to break bread, share stories, or participate in events.”

“When I was a child if you got called an ‘African’ you’re ready to fight. Now with African heritage it’s something to be explored and there’s value there and we should investigate that,” said Cornelius Moore, an African Diaspora Dialogue participant.

If the African Diaspora Dialogues continue to be successful we just may see an upgrade in collective relationship status.

Continue Reading
Laetitia Rumford

L.A.'s Problem Explains The Making of His Short Film “A Compton Story” And Releases New Single “Don’t Be Mad At Me”

We know that Los Angeles, California produces top tier talent when it comes to Hip-Hop, so we won’t even start with the long list of MCs and beatmakers that comprise that grouping. Yet, we have to acknowledge that Jason “Problem” Martin is right on that list with the greats of his city. Beyond ghostwriting for legends and presenting a slew of mixtapes, which has lead to his trifecta of self-produced Selfish themed albums, Mr. “Whaaat!” (his signature catch phrase) is now in the cinematic realm with the release of the short film A Compton Story, exclusively released on the Tidal streaming platform.

Based on events that could be from his real life, Problem squeezes in the everyday occurrences that a black man can go through whether famous or infamous. "I wanted to do a comedy. I thought ‘some gangster movie’ would be expected from me," explains Problem. “I grew up loving stuff like Martin, Friday, Purple Rain...so those projects were my major inspirations and the blueprints to tell my own story, A Compton Story.” Executive produced by Problem and President of the mighty Top Dawg Entertainment, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, A Compton Story twists and turns and features music that goes along with the scenes. It also debuts Problem’s newest single “Don’t Be Mad At Me.”

Watch the likes of Mike Epps, Jackie Long and Snoop Dogg enhance the visuals, along with the love of Problem’s life...we’ll let him tell you all about her.

------------- How did you go about casting your short film “Compton Story?”

The casting process for Compton Story was random as hell. It was a mix of people I’ve worked with or currently work with in some kind of capacity that was around during that month period that I was shooting. Once I drop the documentary to the film, you’ll see how random a lot of things ended up happening. It was a blessing. I just called up all my friends...I heard Deon Taylor say something, ‘Just work with who you fuck with.’ And that’s what I did, I just happen to have some real cool friends. Shout out to them for giving me their time and taking their time with me for this, cus it was a new process. I was dealing with some really high level people.

When did you meet the leading lady of the film, Daphne?

Me and Daphne met when I came back from Germany, I was one years old and I went to my Pa-Pa’s house and she lived three houses down. I been knowing Daphne since I was damn near born. I used to watch her down the street, I used to sneak in her house. Her Dad was one of my best friends on the block, he used to give me candy. He knew I loved his daughter. I used to tell her I was going to marry her when I was like four, five and six… I just been plotting on this for a long time. For us to kick back off when I’m grown, she went and had a fabulous life and went and did what I did, for us to reconnect right now is still strange to me. But you know on some confidence shit I told her, “I knew I was gonna get you.” So it’s funny man.

Is “Whaaaat!” your preverbal light blub saying when you come up with a genius idea?

Honestly, I would say “Whaaat!” to everything. It was just like my period to the end of the sentence or my exclamation point or whatever. I’d be sitting with the homies and somebody would say something funny I’d be like “Whaat” or if they did something crazy I’d say, “Whaaat!” But I was sittin’ with one of my partners at Diamond Life and he was like, “Aye man, why don’t you ever put one of those shits in your songs?” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “That, the ‘What.’ Put that shit in your record.” Every record after that, I put “Whaaat!” in it and it just stuck.

“Compton Story” shows us just one day of the pressure it is to be a young successful black man in those L.A. streets. Do you feel or live as though every day is this hectic for you? And if so, how long before you realized these [L.A.] Valley streets are crazy as hell too?

It’s just hectic for any black man, let alone a successful one. Just the randomness of shit that can happen. Then especially if you came from an urban area or poverty stricken area, or low class area...and then to become successful you battle with the nuances of what you learned and what do you take and use in what situation is always the hardest parts for me. Like, ‘Do I use my Compton shit here? Or do I use my about to be 40 (years old) vibes?’ That’s the toughest part, knowing when to hit the gas and when to hit the brake.

Continue Reading
Recording artists Swizz Beatz and Timbaland attend The Dean Collection X BACARDI Untameable House Party on December 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
Frazer Harrison

Interview: Swizz Beatz And Timbaland Talk 'Verzuz' Battles, Respond To Fan Requests

Phrases such as “do it for the culture” or “push the culture forward” are used so often that their meanings have been diluted. But with their new series Verzuz, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland are doing exactly what those terms mean. Part beat battle and part educational seminar, two legendary producers, songwriters, or artists take 20 of their biggest hits and pit them against each other as the audience watches and comments on Instagram. Timbaland and Swizz competed against each other first, and then they coordinated other matchups: Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, Neyo vs. Johnta Austin, The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Mannie Fresh vs. Scott Storch, and T-Pain vs. Lil Jon. Each matchup has its own standout qualities - whether it’s Sean Garrett's wacky faces before launching a late comeback, Scott Storch adding harmonious keys in real time, or T-Pain and Lil Jon clowning with each other before previewing new music, every battle is a must-watch.

Coming up next, music fans will be treated to the biggest matchup yet: Teddy Riley vs. Babyface. In an interview with VIBE, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland break down how they came up with Verzuz in the first place, their favorite moments so far, and why they want the culture vultures to slow down for once.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

@teddyriley1 VS @babyface 🙌🏽 This is one of the iconic moments me & @timbaland have been working on! The Sunday will go down in the history books! Once again VERZUZ made it happen ! See you Sunday 6pm est on @teddyriley1 Live Zone Zone Zone !!!!!!!

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 2, 2020 at 9:27pm PDT

--

What made you decide to do the first battle between yourselves?

Timbaland: I think the first battle was something that I can say that me and Swizz had this idea for Verzuz three and a half years ago. The world is so dark right now, I woke up one day just feeling brave and I called Swizz like, “we should do it over IG Live.” As soon as I said it, we just did it, we just had fun with it. We just gave the world something beautiful for 5 hours to take their mind off of what's going on.

Swizz Beatz: We did it before at Summer Jam, so that was the first one, and then Timb came back to me and said,  “you know what, this is the time where we should do it again.” And I thought it was a great idea. Plus it fits right into what we were building anyway

Was it both of you guys at Summer Jam or was it a different battle at Summer Jam? Swizz Beatz: It was me and him. We didn’t have enough time to do how we did on IG, so IG was the real one. Summer Jam was the warm up. Because we only had like 12, 15 minutes on the set so it was very short but it was effective with 50,000 people there. And we were just celebrating each other, and that's the thing I wanted to tell everybody. It's an educational celebration, even though we talk smack and we make it interesting, cause we gotta have that for fun, but it's really educational and it's really a celebration. So everybody that's been on Verzuz has been an educational celebration. I mean, look at tonight. We got Ryan Tedder vs Benny Blanco, you know that's a whole other side of the music, but those guys deserve to get celebrated as well. I think it's gonna be a great battle, they’ve got big big big records.

So from you guys' battle, what were your favorite moments from each other's sets? Timbaland: My favorite moment was seeing my friend, and we were both in a great space. He went to the car and plugged up, and was really into the music. It wasn’t about what songs did I play, it was about just seeing my friend and both of us having fun. I think that was a moment in itself for me.

Swizz Beatz:I agree with that. My favorite moment with Timb was his energy. We haven’t seen Timb get loose like that: glass of wine in his hand, his energy was way up, his spirit was way up. This was a crucial time cause the entire world was watching and feeding off of our energy. When we did it at Summer Jam, we wasn’t going through all these trials and tribulations, so people had a lot of other options and different things going on, and not really paying attention as they probably should. But this time, people really got to pay attention ‘cause we all on lockdown, we all sitting down and people got to pay attention to the energy. I think that energy transpired into Hit-Boy and Boi-1da wanting to contribute to that energy and all the others that came because of that. But what we inherited was a real job, Tim [laughter]

Timbaland: A real serious job.

Swizz Beatz: What people don’t understand is, they can be home and type up a wish list. If they don't think we don't want the same wishes they do? They crazy! But everybody not coming outside. It's hard. When we get these people to agree, it's a celebration man cause it's not an easy thing to do. It’s a lot on the line. And a lot of the women are like “we want the ladies, we want the ladies.” Okay, but the ladies ain't answering yet. You think we don't want the ladies? We working on it, you know, we delivered mail to all of your favorites to come outside, and it's looking real good. We got some great things coming, but I just want the people to be patient and know that me and Timb is doing this from our heart, for the people. A lot of people are like “I need JD and Puff,” and I’m like well if it were that easy, it would have been already. … But nobody is gonna be mad, nobody is gonna be mad. At the end of the day, they just gotta trust the curation.

Tell me about the work it takes to make these things happen. Timbaland: Aw man. It’s transforming the mind of the mindset that was set for so long. People get caught up on the word battle, and I have to remove that and say “look, that's just a context, don't look at that. It’s really a celebration and an education”. And once I say education, the talk slows down. Me and Swizz set the rules, it's 20 for 20, so it's not what you thinking but people always throw other stuff on. Let's just celebrate you, people wanna give you your flowers while you here, and just give people education on who did what, what transpired in the past as far as creation. show your talents, show your work. Let us celebrate you right now. We need feelings right now, we don't have nothing, everybody is on a common playing field, it ain't about no money it ain't about no nothing, just come and let's celebrate this greatness that you presented to the world. That’s when they get it and start shaking their heads, but it's a process. And then i pass it over to Swizz. (laughs)

Swizz Beatz: And then you get phone calls from people who don’t qualify. You gotta have 20 joints, a lot of people wanna just jump into it because they feel like it’s a dance challenge or something, or a challenge we would see on Instagram where everybody is just doing it to get the looks. No, these are real architects that’s on this. Everybody that we’ve officially presented are architects. Now, some might have played the wrong songs at the wrong times and different things like that, but that's not on us. But these are people that got 20, certified. So a lot of people don't wanna come outside that do have the 20, and a lot of people that do wanna come outside that don't have the 20. So we gotta keep this thing curated because once it gets silly, it just gets silly. And a lot of people are doing their own thing, which is cool! But what me and Timb are trying to offer, once again, is an educational musical platform where people might talk some smack, people might get excited, some might lose some might win but at the end of the day the culture wins. These people are putting this on for free, ain't nobody got a dime yet. And all the corporations and everything are all to the table, but right now we just enjoying it like this. It’s 6 million people unemployed, what type of business are we talking about right now? That’s not what this is about right now. This is about healing as we get through this time together.

And of course me and him had a plan, we had to plan for three years for it to be done with businesses and partners and things like that, but right now this is not the time for that. We would look crazy. And a lot of people call us like we not on our game and we got such a great idea that we just letting wash down the road. I don’t feel like we letting anything wash down the road. I feel like 1.) We making history, 2.) It's educational, 3.) It’s for the people and 4.) We hit 203,000 people yesterday on live. That's not a small number, that's a few stadiums. With no sponsors by the way, just the music, no negativity, just the music. And that's what gives us the energy to be on these phone calls with these artists. The artists are hard bro, these people not easy. The requirements and... it's just a lot. My wife looking at me like “I don't know how much longer got dammit” cause this is...you late for dinner now. And we in the house, it ain't like I'm coming from somewhere, I'm in the house [laughter]. But it’s something we devoted to and we gonna keep it special.

One thing that's been really interesting to me in all these, neither the artists or the commenters feel the need to hold back. It’s interesting because sometimes when artists are talking to each other, egos can be fragile. So an artist may not say something cause they dont want to jeopardize that relationship. But i’m seeing artists talk sh*t. So what do you think makes the commenters and the artists feel so free and so open to say what they want in these battles? Timbaland: Thats a good one. For me personally, I think it's because it's from the heart. This aint bout nothing, it's for the people, by the people. That's how I see it. And you gon get what you gon get. And I think artists are engaged with it and they be in tune because it's a musical history. I believe Meek posted something on Twitter saying that “these battles make me appreciate music way more than i ever did.” Fans just being free. Like Swizz said, we filling up a stadium, but a stadium where everybody can speak their minds. And I feel like right now, in the world, we on one playing field. You ain't talking bout what Range Rover i got, what diamond chain, that don't even matter. So all you have is your opinion. That's it.

Swizz Beatz: I think the comments is a safe space as well. I think it just feels like a community and everybody got a license to keep it real in that community. I thought that was interesting too, because I see people in there talking crazy that, man if it was somewhere else, it would really be these things we talk about. But it's like being at a fight, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, we gon talk shit on the sideline. Like “Aw man that aint it right there.” It’s like that, vs. pointing in someone's face and talking to them like that. It’s like friends communicating at a showdown. People are looking at it more as a sport than anything, I believe, when they in those comments.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Two icons went head to head in a Epic battle . Thank you for doing it for the people 🙌🏽 203k in attendance let’s keep it going @timbaland VERZUZ 🎬🎬🎬 @artokoro

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 2, 2020 at 10:31am PDT

I know that some artists can be very cautious about things that they agree to. And they may be like, "I don't wanna do this because if I lose I’ll look crazy.” Has it taken a lot of convincing to get some of these people to do it? Swizz Beatz: Man that's what we tryna tell you, this is not an easy job. Like people are overthinking, this is a lot on the line. And so far everybody in Verzuz has been taking it...I spoke to Mannie today and I know that he know that he probably didn’t win that battle, you understand? But in his mind he had fun, he put on for the people, he felt he probably could have played a couple of different records, and he kept a high road about it. Some people say that he won, some people say I won, and you know the energy is good. But everybody can't take that to the chin, and that's what I’m learning. I'm like man, especially a lot of artists in the younger generation, they got all these excuses not to show up. Me and Timb don't wanna just put on shows from a different era, we wanna put on shows that’s from them! But I'm telling you, it's a lot of ego involved. And my message to those artists is “leave your ego at the door, bring your music and have fun.” That's it. It's for the people. But a lot of people that I know wanna jump in but he like “man I can't,” “he saying this one did this, this one did this to me.” Like that's crazy. That's a young mentality. A more mature mentality is like yo, he might win some, I might win some, he might lose some, I might lose some, let’s just do it. It's music, we just celebrating music, it ain't that crazy. So a lot of people requesting all these battles it's like, yeah that sounds easy, now who's gonna go get it done? (Laughs)

A colleague of mine found a lot of similarities between these and soundclashes from the carribean. Are you using that influence on purpose or no? Swizz Beatz: Not necessarily. At the end of the day, Verzuz is not just about music. We didn’t get into the sports side, we didn’t get into the comedy side. There's other things that we’re gonna do, but this is a well thought out plan and we’re starting it with music because that's our strong point. But we got other things thats gonna blow people's minds that's set up, but this is a very calculated thing. This is a duration, this isn't just for the hype of quarantine. This is for us to have a different platform that celebrates creativity period, not just music. So we would love for people to understand what we’re thinking, cause I see a lot of people tryna pull from what we doing and tryna run with headlines of their own quicker than what we’re doing, but we don't care about that shit, that's not even their type of business, the people that's doing it. They don't got no musical background, no creative background, they just wanna feel like they’re part of something. Which is great. But what we plan on doing is...when you free the artist, you free the world, right? So we plan on giving a lot of artists and creatives the voice that they probably never had, or was never understood. We’re thinking very very big, but right now we like the level that we’re at because we vibing with the people, and we gonna also vibe with the people but right now we just having fun. That's all you can do.

Now Swizz you had also posted on your IG that a lot of companies and corporations are tryna cash in on this right now. What kind of offers are they putting out there and how does it make you feel to get those offers so early on in the process? Swizz Beatz: Me and Timb were definitely appreciative, but there's a time and place for everything. Not saying that we won't look at everything, we not silly, we gonna look at everything, there might be something that's really amazing. But, and I think I can speak on Timb’s behalf too, but with a lot of people and ideas, people are so short-minded sometimes. They think about what can help their basic now and not their overall period. For me, it's a time and place for everything, and going direct to the artists and all of this stuff here, which all of the companies are doing, which is cool, but I don't like how they tryna play on them as well. Like don't do that, don't do that. Right now, there's no politics involved and we’re having a great time. The minute you see a logo running across that screen, it's just gonna feel crazy. And I think we should be promoting what we promoting: the artists. Period. The creatives. Period. No interruptions. Give us five minutes on that, let the creatives have theirs, five minutes without being interrupted by a logo. That's our vibe right now. Let the creatives get their five minutes without being interrupted by a f***in logo. Let the artists be people for five seconds, you know what I’m saying? Timb, you can expand on that if you want.

Timbaland: Nah you said it right. Just give us a minute. I was gonna sum it down to just let us breathe. We're having fun. Don’t mess up the fun. Just give us a minute. We’ll come to you.

Swizz Beatz: Or put your proposal in now and come talk to us after the quarantine. You can do that now, and then after the quarantine we can get to it. Cause right now we in a very hardcore situation. This is the second of April, so this is a very crucial month. If things don't change this month, there isn't gonna be anything to talk about but survival. It's not gonna matter anyway. We got 6 million -

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now.

Swizz Beatz: It’s 10 million?

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now, Swizz.

Swizz Beatz: Well okay.

Timbaland: 10 million unemployed, we can't even talk about a business right now, like come on.

Swizz Beatz: That's 10 million wolves. That's nuts man. That's 10 million good people that can turn bad.

Timbaland: Very quick.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Attention 🚨 #VERZUZ @scottstorchofficial vs @manniefresh tonight 9pm est on @scottstorchofficial live.........

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 1, 2020 at 11:49am PDT

Swizz Beatz: Inshallah, a lot of things need to turn around quick. When I say quick, I mean quick. Everything needs to go in effect now. Because you telling us we cant go outside? And then you saying we can't work, and we can't pay our bills and all this and now you got blackouts happening? All right now. This is a Will Smith movie. And the crazy part is it's for real. The economy is what, 16 trillion now? In four weeks? That's a different type of bleeding.

Timbaland: That's why this is so important. Because even for me, and I tell Swizz this all the time, it's giving me joy for three hours out the day that feels like I left my house. But I didn’t leave my house. It’s that feeling of great music and curation and you don't be thinking bout the offers and...nah man. I'm looking at the people. It can be frustrating because they asking “who next who next,” “I want this person next,” but that means these people are engaged in a time like this, where people are losing jobs like...you can't do that, you gotta give us those five minutes. It’s serious out here. Very serious.

What were some of your favorite moments from the other battles so far? Timbaland: My favorite moment from Sean and Dream’s battle was Sean kept making them faces (laughs), like what is wrong with you? But then he’d drop a bomb so it's like oh snap! That was one of my favorites from that. And then with Johnta and Neyo, it was like i was on the dance floor just going crazy cause I didn’t know Johnta did all these records and I didn’t know all the records that Ne-Yo did, so every moment of that was amazing to me. My best moment with Mannie and Scott was that Scott saved “Still Dre” for last and it was like “Goodnight, close the curtains.”

Swizz Beatz: My favorite moment was when Hit-Boy and Boi-1da was playing exclusives that people respect in a battle, cause thats a hard card right there. I like that they both had mega records that nobody had heard of, to pull out in a battle. I like that they had exclusives. But big exclusives. Cause it's hard to play exclusives in a battle, people are playing hits. So he had to pull out Drake, Hit-Boy had to pull out Nipsey. So I thought that was amazing. As far as Johnta and Ne-Yo, still my favorite battle so far, for many reasons, for the educational reasons, for the diversity in the playlists, how they were gentlemen about it, how the energy was. But man, to find all these hidden tracks from both of them that I never knew either of them produced, that was the best for me. And then artists calling me for Johnta’s number like right after that; young artists by the way, big ones too. I thought that was super cool, they called for Ne-Yo too. With The-Dream and Sean Garrett, my favorite part was The-Dream playing golf (laughs) and Sean Garrett swinging at the last minute and made everybody respect his name at the end of the day, no matter how we felt at the beginning of the battle, he made a great comeback on that.

I liked that Mannie Fresh had skits, I would have cut like two or three of those skits out, but I liked that he came with character. I like how Scott Storch was comfortable. It was calculated. He said “you got the skits but you aint got the hits.” I just love how smooth he was with his weapons, like he had a dangerous hand of weapons and he was just handling himself like a boss. And Mannie wasn't scared to show up to the competition, which, trust me, we had other people we wanted to go against Scott but people are not coming outside. So I respect that Mannie came outside. I respect that. So when two people say yes we gotta respect that. Cause obviously you wanna see Scott vs whoever in your head. Nine times out of 10, we called that person and asked them to come outside. So that's how we got to have fun with Mannie and Scott. 203,000 people showed up for that and they didn't leave, so we had a great time with that.

So what are you guys expecting from T-Pain and Lil Jon? Who are your early picks on that?

Timbaland: I think we gonna get a lot of high energy, cause T-Pain is a character and Lil Jon is definitely a character.

Swizz Beatz: I think they’re both gonna have everybody on the dancefloor heavy. We felt at the last minute that T-Pain is (accomplished) sonic wise, producer wise, as far as a writer and as an entertainer. I feel that Lil Jon’s energy is gonna be great because, you gotta curate these things as much as possible even tho people were like “aw man we wanted see T-Pain go against Scott Storch” but i just felt like that wasn’t gonna be a fair match for T-Pain and T-Pain would agree as well. But it wasn’t about him backing down, he obviously signed up. But us as executives had to ask “is this really good for anybody?” … Now T-Pain and Lil Jon, the energy’s better with them. T-Pain's energy went up like “Yeah, that's what I'm talkin bout.” When they doing this together, we want it to be an equal exchange and equal excitement ‘cause people feel that energy. T-Pain and Lil Jon just feel a like a party on Saturday, so that's why we did it on Saturday. Let's do a party on Saturday, get the tempo up and energy up. What do you think?

I'm looking forward to it for sure. I think they're both salesmen and they have good energy. As far as who's gonna win, I don't know. In these battles you realize there's these songs that come up that you didn’t know that they did, so it's difficult to predict the winner. Swizz Beatz: I agree with that. But that's the good part, it keeps you watching. It’s a lot of predictable battles we could do. But it's like it's too predictable. So a lot of the battles people, when they first see them, some they’re gonna agree with but a lot they’re gonna be like “but why?” Certain big names you’re gonna see, and you’re gonna see names as big as those names and you’re gonna be like “Come on Swizz and Timb, how you gonna do that?” but when you actually see it, you’re gonna see why and how we did that, and i just want everybody to trust the curation. Look at Johnta Austin, people was like “Man we need Ne-Yo to go against Dream, thats not a good thing” and next thing, look, everybody got educated on that shit. So we don't wanna do predictable battles, then it starts becoming like a candy store and it's like no man, we took our time with this.

Continue Reading

Top Stories